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When I was married, my husband’s family struggled to accept me, but I still did everything I could to be a part of their lives. As we went through divorce, some of his siblings were respectful while others became more hostile. His parents sided with him and became more aggressive and rude to me. I feel torn now because I am the mother of these children who are their grandchildren and nieces and nephews. This may seem silly in light of all the difficult questions you answer, but since this is my first Christmas divorced from my husband, I have no idea how to interact with his family. I don’t live near them, so my only connection to many of them is the annual Christmas card. I feel an obligation to keep them in the loop, but is that my ex-husband’s job to keep our kids connected to his family now that we’re divorced? I don’t want to create any more divisions than have already been created with this divorce.
Divorce introduces a steady stream of surprises in the months and years following the split. You probably never imagined that Christmas cards could cause so much angst. My guess is that your struggle isn’t about Christmas cards, but instead, it’s about you trying to figure out your place in this larger family system.
It sounds like you struggled to find your place in the larger family when you were married. Unfortunately, divorce hasn’t made that struggle any easier. I want you to know that you don’t have to let the timing and pressure of Christmas cards define your relationships with his family.
Please remember that this is your first Christmas as a divorced woman. Thankfully, there isn’t a right or wrong way to handle this situation.
Here are some ideas to help you decide the best way to handle your dilemma. First, there is nothing wrong with deciding to take a year off from sending cards. If you decide to do this, know that you don’t need to explain yourself. You don’t need to apologize. Instead of worrying about connecting to the extended family, you can turn your energy to helping your children navigate this difficult season of their lives.
If Christmas cards are an important tradition that helps you hold onto something familiar in this new unfamiliar world, then please honor that preference and send them. You can do this a few different ways. You can send out cards to everyone and then sort out your feelings the rest of the year. You can send out cards to those family members with whom you have an ongoing and connected relationship. You can even insert a note letting them know that you aren’t sure how to navigate this new reality and you will understand if they’d rather not receive future cards.
If it’s important for you to share your family’s updates each year, share them. As I mentioned before, please don’t get hung up on the Christmas cards. This is more about giving yourself permission to decide how these relationships will fit into your life through the coming years.
You and your ex-husband get to decide how you’ll each interface with his family. You don’t have to rely on him to be the sole connection to his family. Build the relationships you want to build and take as much time as you need to sort out the other ones.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.